AC 118 Flight Report
(Vancouver - Toronto)

So what comes with an Air Canada flight most of the time? A delay. I originally booked this flight so I could still get daylight upon arrival, hopeful I can snap some aerials over Toronto on final approach. With my original 1:45pm departure delayed by about an hour, I was cutting it close to sunset in Toronto, but I gained additional sightseeing time in Vancouver.

Unfortunately, the weather continued to be grey and wet today, which is a bit unusual for Vancouver during the summer. I made the best of it by exploring nearby Richmond, where a huge Chinese community calls home. You pretty much get everything you can eat in Hong Kong here, but at a cheaper price thanks to lower rents and a fallen Canadian Dollar.

Hong Kong Airlines would soon launch a new service to Vancouver, with Jackie Chan as their PR model. He actually did the same for Vancouver's Harmony Airways, which went under a decade ago.

At this time of the day, everyone was still sleeping. I had the huge malls all to myself.

A bit disappointed with the weather, I made my way back to the hotel to grab my luggage. I was hoping to explore the airport a bit more and grab a bite before my transcontinental flight. Air Canada's domestic check-in area is quite big and bright. You first head over to a self-serve kiosk to print your boarding pass and luggage tag. There are plenty of kiosks so lining up wasn't an issue. The line you see below is for manual check-in .. yikes!

Then, head behind the kiosks for the line to an agent who affixes the bag tag. I guess that saves a few headcount already.

Then you haul the bag to the belt behind it and drop it in yourself. So what used to be 1 line where you get your boarding pass, bag tag affixed, and dropped into belt is now 3 processes and the passenger needs to get quite involved. I think this automation is a deterioration of customer service, but unfortunately seems to be consistent with what I experienced in Australia last year.

Premium customers continue to get their dedicated 1-stop line though.

With the formalities done, I went on to explore the terminal and its local indigeneous art.

I had plenty of time left so went downstairs to the arrivals area, where I noticed domestic bag carousels were not so well divided from the public area. You can basically go in and steal a few bags, while a written sign says don't do it. No uniformed security guards could be seen in the area. I guess Canadians are complacent against opportunistic crime.

No door, but don't come in. Yet there is nothing to stop you from doing so.

Back upstairs, Air Canada was advertising its Premium Economy class. I could book such a seat on today's flight under an Economy fare but with a small surcharge similar to an exit row or front row seat. But I snapped up a more spacious seat at the back where the 777's row of 3 turns into 2, so I opted to save a bit of money today.

Reminiscent of Japanese airports, there is a public observation deck upstairs behind the check-in counters. It includes a scale model of the airport, whose runways criss-cross the island.

There wasn't too much to spot. Canada is pretty much dominated by 2 airlines, and domestic flights aren't usually on widebodies. So the planes are all small specks from a distance.

Vancouver is Canada's Asian gateway, and there has been an exponential increase in flights from mainland China these days.

You can see my flight is delayed from 1:45 to 2:25 today, with the subsequent Toronto flight cancelled.

With free wifi at the terminal and smart phones everywhere these days, these cubicles probably are long obsolete.

The single terminal has separate areas for domestic, international, and US departures. This cozy-looking section is for international flights.

By now, I was a bit hungry so I headed to the small food court for a warm lunch. I didn't want to pay for food on board anyway. This was not too expensive and contained quite a generous portion of beef.

The line for security was a bit long and I gave ample time to go through the formalities. Departures and arrivals share the same corridors, but luckily, the pier wasn't too big so the walk was manageable.

Arriving passengers would need to go through these 1-way doors to exit to the luggage carousel.

The zoned boarding system looks good on paper, but with such short dividers, even a full narrowbody would turn messy and confusing quickly. Zones 1 and 2 are usually fine but the rest of the plane bunches into the remaining zones so the lines become indecipherable quite quickly. Many passengers arriving closer to departure were frustrated not being able to find the end of the line.

These jets are quite common in Vancouver to serve the neighbouring smaller communities.

West Coast salmon is quite famous and you can pick up a few souvenirs on the way out.

The boarding gate didn't have enough seats and many were already lined up by the revised departure time. As expected, it got quite confusing as the end of the line wasn't visible in the glob of people. Today's flight would be a full 777 HD so the tiny holding pen was nowhere enough to accomodate the flow.

Realizing the boarding disaster, an agent waved us over to board from a 2nd door to keep the flow going. At least they tried. I wasn't in a hurry to sit and wait for everyone else to settle, but I expected we weren't going to leave at the revised departure time either.

I settled into my window seat at the back of the plane. They announced today's delay was due to the late aircraft arrival from Asia. The floor was once again not vacuumed properly, with food bits strewn at the corners quite visibly.

Next to us is a dreaded Rouge plane and Air Transat, a charter/discount carrier that lets you know they're cheap so you won't have much expectations.

Welcome aboard a 777 HD.

With the flight boarding, I took a glance at the reading materials. The food-for-purchase menu was decently extensive and it was possible to score a light meal for under $10.

I usually don't read the magazine as the destinations portrayed don't inspire me so much anymore, but the Labrador feature looked quite interesting, seemingly fogotten on the international tourism map. I also found a piece of home featuring Hong Kong's country parks.

The flight map has also been modernized with a neat line diagram.

By now, we were taxing towards take-off into the east. My left window seat could score some aerials over downtown Vancouver today if the weather holds.

I was out of luck for aerials today. Despite a prolonged delay which saw us depart almost at 3pm, the winds were in our favour and the journey to Toronto would only take 3.5 hours today. We would land just around sunset at 9:30pm. Summer days are great in this part of the world.

As we passed the Rockies, the skies cleared out more and more on the other side of the rain shadow.

I'm not a fan of the 777 HD but I also didn't want to fly on a narrowbody for such a long trip. At least there was IFE even though the selection is pitiful compared to my Emirates flights back in April. With a USB charger at every seat, we could keep ourselves entertained these days. My phone or laptop probably would have lasted 3.5 hours in the air. Note the ground speed is an incredible 1126 km/h. Why couldn't we get that for last night's transpacific crossing?

I didn't buy anything from the menu, but opted for a complimentary water instead. It took the crew half the flight to get to the back.

We passed north of Chicago and now have reached Lake Michigan's coastline.

Soon, we were passing through Lake Huron and Toronto was in sight!

North America is quite a wide continent, but with prevailing winds, we flew at well over 1000 km/h for most of the flight so the crossing was quite quick.

With stormy skies over Toronto, it got quite dark fairly quickly. My chances for aerials on approach were dwindling.

We made up for the delay and landed in Toronto just 20 minutes behind schedule.

The domestic wing here is much larger than Vancouver and we emerged in a common area with departing passengers. It was a long walk to the exits for the carousels, but the luggage came out reasonably quickly.

Service Summary

Today's flight brings out the stresses of flying. Even without considering the delay, every stage had its problems. Check-in is now a pain with the passenger moving around between kiosk, counter, and luggage belt with heavy bags on tow. Boarding is a disaster with badly-marked lines that gobble up together. Once seated, a basic meal is not free and complimentary drinks take hours to arrive. No wonder this sort of experience brings out the worst in people.

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